Voice artists often do not receive credit for their work on pieces of content that individuals cherish. These individuals define the characters as much as the animators’ designs, for the power of a suitable voice with much range can lead us to value the characters’ dreams and fears.
Over three editions of Disney In Depth in the coming months, I will highlight 25 actors and actresses whose voice performances for some of Disney’s most treasured animated film characters deserve kudos. For the sake of keeping the list “brief” and fair, voice artists for Pixar films are excluded from the list.
In no particular order, here part one of my 25 Best Disney Animated Film Voice Artists list.
How could he not hold a spot here? His take on Genie, Aladdin’s transformative friend whose only goal in life was to be granted freedom, earned him a special Golden Globe after the film’s 1992 release. Robin Williams used Aladdin as an opportunity to exhibit his mad talent impersonating countless celebrities, but it was his heart that made him a compelling force. Though Williams’ tragic passing means he will never voice the Genie ever again, both Aladdin and its 1996 direct-to-video sequel are everlasting tributes to the man who helped create a signature Disney character.
The head of the Underworld would not have been the same without James Woods. The voice of Hades in Hercules, Woods majorly contributed to the animated comedy’s hilarity. Ad-libbing for many of the scenes, Woods injected a smooth-talking and charismatic agent feel into this despicable villain. Though Hades never breaks out into song, his clever lines are music to my ears. “Olympus would be that way,” he says at one point with his signature slight bit of sarcasm. Delivery is everything and Woods has this down. If several deserving Disney princess voices could receive Disney Legend awards, Woods should attain one if a bunch of Disney villain voices are awarded these prestigious honors.
Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie can thank one woman for setting the precedent in how to conjure up scares and sneers in portraying Lady Tremaine and Maleficent, respectively. Eleanor Audley voiced both Tremaine in Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, two of Disney’s 1950s princess-themed fairy tale films. Animators would model Audley’s facial expressions in designing these two fierce folks. The radio artist’s pronounced voice and inflection of sounds to add resonance would characterize the villains she portrayed.
Like Eleanor Audley, Kathryn Beaumont voiced two iconic Disney characters in only the span of several years. As Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Wendy from Peter Pan, Beaumont presented a quintessential image of an English girl from another era. Her voice carried curiosity and maturity as both the brazen explorer who shrinks down and falls into an enchanted environment, as well as the uptight sister who likewise visits a captivating backdrop. This Disney Legend, inducted in 1998, imbued an enduring mark in Disney animation, especially in its voice talent department.
A recent Disney star who voiced one of the company’s most popular sidekicks since Sebastian and Timon, Josh Gad’s incredible vocal work for Olaf instantly made us warm up to this snowman. Gad’s agreeable personality came out in this performance that rejuvenated his career. Olaf blurts out lines that range from deep to laughable, and yet Gad’s charm always comes through. That’s a sign of a genius voice actor and something tells me he won’t retire that role anytime soon.
When you wish upon a star, you probably think of a fastidious insect who can croon pretty well. Cliff Edwards voiced Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s right-hand conscience. The noble companion to the puppet made of wood may not have been the same without Edwards’ performance. He sung the trademark tune and provided the voice of an epochal figure that many individuals think as representative of the Disney brand. Though Edwards’ later life was blighted by many personal demons, it’s perhaps almost fate that most individuals attach him to righteous character.
Though she resided in a “poor provincial town,” Belle substantially impacted her place of residence upon showing individuals that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Paige O’ Hara, the legendary stage actress who defined the “beauty” in the title of the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, is a star in every sense of the word. Both her natural speaking voice and singing abilities gave Belle a sense of tone and purpose. Awarded with a Disney Legend accolade in 2011, O’Hara reinforced her talent upon performing a medley of Beauty and the Beast songs. She’s the real deal.
Cheshire Cat. Winnie the Pooh. Kaa. Roquefort. Adult Flower. All of these characters connect back to one masterful voice actor. Sterling Holloway voiced a myriad of legendary characters over his career, whether in feature films or Disney animated shorts. Holloway’s tenor is recognizable, and according to the role, could sound comforting, menacing or sometimes even a mix of two.
Like James Woods’ Hades, one of Disney’s more notable villains in recent years, Eartha Kitt’s vocal performance for Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove is unparalleled. Kitt lent Yzma a soulful and feisty personality that complicated Kuzco’s return to the throne, yet amused audiences every minute along the way. Also like Woods, Kitt voiced the character again in the animated television series that followed the movie. Some of us may remember Kitt as Catwoman from the original Batman series, though Yzma also reminded us the gifted actress Kitt represented over her many decade career.
JAMES EARL JONES
This is one lucky man. He voiced two unforgettable film characters, both of which belong in the Disney family. But Star Wars was not animated. However, as the voice of prudent Mufasa, Jones gave this father figure a heavy dose of vigor and judiciousness. Mufasa possesses depth and so does Jones’ voice. He is not only a treasure to the film community, but also the Disney voice acting scene.
Stay tuned over the coming months for the second edition in this list of the 25 Best Disney Animated Film Voice Artists! Who do you think will make the list?
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.